Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quick Review: Mortal Suns

Title: Mortal Suns
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: family, love, royalty, fate, blessings, deformities/disabilities, hard work, incest, death
Rating: ***

Plot: Horrible screams pierce the night air as the Daystar, Queen Hesta of Akhemony, wrestles with the delivery of the King's child, beautifully formed except for one heartbreaking deformity -- she is born without feet. Consigned immediately to the world of death, the lame infant is dispatched to Thon, the underworld temple, and baptized Cemira -- "snake" -- the name she will bear throughout a lifetime of darkness. It is only at the behest of Urdombris, the Sun Consort, that Cemire is wrested from te temple of death, renamed Callistra, and restored to her rightful place in the kingdom.

My Thoughts: Basically, I think this blogger sums it all up nicely. I recommend checking it out for a quick and easy review of Mortal Suns.
  • Another typical Lee protagonist and plot-very beautiful and slightly off heroine with a love/lust/obsession for someone powerful (and usually blood related, to be frank). Enjoyable, but familiar if you have read much of Lee's work.
  • A vaguely alien Egyptian world, a different planet, but the court life and sun worship just strikes me as Egyptian for whatever reason.
  • A diverse and well made mythos. Lee provides not only a complete official pantheon within the story, of well fleshed gods/myths/superstitions/rituals but also gives the world a bit of depth by showing that there are competing mythologies in her world.
  • This story is essentially the first half of the narrator's life, and by the conclusion, you will feel something is missing-namely what comes next! Although I wouldn't necessarily call it a cliff-hanger.
  • Political intrigue and shifting alliances take up the majority of the plot, our narrator is merely a powerless player.
Recommendation: I enjoyed Mortal Suns quite a bit. It has Lee's excellent world building, if also her typical protagonist/plot outline. I felt the narrator had a strong and distinctive voice, but it did not really connect to the main character (herself) as described. In the end, I would recommend this to any fantasy lovers out there as a fun and intriguing read.

Similar Reads: Heroine of the World by Tanith Lee,

Random Quote: "From the smoke, maybe, the moon blushed rosy.

In his tent hung with crimson, Nexor dined with a meager scatter of sycophants.

They heard the songs.

Over the valley of two miles, the Ipyrans heard them, too. A joyous bridegroom sings before his marriage day, they said, in Ipyra. They listened to the joyous bridegroom singing, and wondered if marriage would mean, for them, something else. (p. 201)"

Lee, Tanith. Mortal Suns. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2003.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Quick Review: Heart Beast

Title: Heart-Beast
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: werewolves, curses, love, lust
Rating: **

Plot: After the killing of his brutal father, golden and handsome Daniel Vehmund has sought refuge in an exotic faraway land. But his contentment is shattered when a fabulous diamond is pressed on him by a sinister graverobber. From that first fatal contact, Daniel is doomed each night of the full moon to become something else ... something dark and powerful and savage. And nothing that originates on this earth can destroy him

Laura, a beautiful redhaired farm-girl, lives with her two awful sisters and her selfish grasping parents in the remote English countryside. Apparently condemned to a life of drudgery, all is transformed when she is wooed and wed by a wealthy local squire. But this gilded existence is threatened when a travelling magician persuades her besotted husband to buy for her a very unusual diamond. For this gem is "The Wolf," the diamond that had so transformed Daniel Vehmund's destiny. And when he himself returns at last to England, his fate and Laura's are devastatingly intertwined ...
Meanwhile some dark, malignant presence continues to prowl the woodlands and hedgerows ... and seemingly nothing can curb its unquenchable bloodlust.

My Thoughts:
  • This is definitely one of Lee's more gruesome tales, with lots of (literal) gut-spilling and savage cruelty. While it does suit the theme and nature of the tale, of a sort of beastly possession, it can be a little overwhelming at times.
  • Another (I think) common Lee element also comes into play; the protagonist, female lead is more symbol than character. She is largely passive and "swept away" into larger, unfolding, events and eventually seems to represent values or emotions rather than motives or personality. This is especially true in Lee's Volkhavaar, if you are interested.
  • Yes this is a werewolf romance, but NO it is not like any popular titles I've seen out there. This is a surreal, gory, and violent story filled with gruesome murders, betrayals, and fear. I think it's safe to say that the romance could better be described as a bizarre compulsion/attraction that spells a doom for most of the book's cast.
Recommendation: Despite the surreal and surprising nature of this stand-alone novel, I am still on the fence about it. I would recommend for werewolf *horror* fans, of course to fans of Lee, but I am not sure of any other niche that this book would fit nicely into. If you have it and the time, go for it.

Similar Reads: Vivia by Tanith Lee

Random Quote: "So the village packed the church with its black and its sweat. They stared at Daniel, the stranger who had been away.

They agreed he was foreign, might have come from the tents of some desert tribe, or the gaudy bazaars (p. 204)."

Lee, Tanth. Heart-Beast. New York: Dell, 1992.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Title: Cloaked
Author: Alex Flinn
Themes: fairy tales, love, friendship, responsibility, commitment, quest, magic, money, duty
Rating: **

Plot: I'm not your average hero. I actually wasn't your average anything. Just a poor guy working an after-school job at a South Beach shoe repair shop to help his mom make ends meet. But a little magic changed it all.

It all started with a curse. And a frognapping. And one hot-looking princess, who asked me to lead a rescue mission.

There wasn't a fairy godmother or any of that. And even though I fell in love along the way, what happened to me is unlike any fairy tale I've ever heard. Before I knew it, I was spying with a flock of enchanted swans, talking (yes, talking!) to a fox named Todd, and nearly trampled by giants in the Keys.

Don't believe me? I didn't believe it either. But you'll see. Because I knew it all was true, the second I got cloaked.

My Thoughts: Cloaked is a mash up of fairy tales Flinn believed to be underrepresented in literature and film, which is an exciting premise! She takes elements from: The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Frog Prince, The Six Swans (Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest is an excellent retelling btw), The Golden Bird, The Valiant Tailor, The Salad, and The Fisherman and His Wife.

My first thought is that...that's a lot of obscure (well, unless you like fairy tales) stories to mash up and still have a cohesive representation of each. In fact...the only one that really shines through is The Frog Prince, arguable the most well known of the bunch. My second thought was that Flinn's epilogue explaining all this really should have been a prologue.

Flinn writes a believable and likable male lead (in all three of the novels I've read this is that I think about it), most side characters are fairly flat and one-dimensional but that actually works in the stories-since the protagonist is pretty self-absorbed. In fact, he's so self-absorbed that he can't figure out the obvious romantic feelings a certain girl has when the reader knows it from page one (oh wait, is this a YA trope?). Or apparently recognize obviously dodgy behavior in others...but I guess it keeps the plot moving.

Johnny's adventures take him from Florida to the Keys then across the nation and into a vaguely defined European country with the aid of a magic cloak. But capturing the frog he's after requires a bit more than a cloak that can transport you where ever you wish to go. In fact it requires the aid of six swans, a fox, a rat, a magical ring, a best friend, and a surprisingly lax mom.

Nevertheless Johnny's trials reveal his own ambitions and emotions while giving him a clearer sense of self and self-worth...which he uses to become a celebrity of sorts by the books conclusion.

Cloaked suffers just a bit from Harry Potter Syndrome...the conclusion just takes it too far and wraps it up too completely to make it a satisfying read.

Recommendation: If you are a fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings I would give it a go. If you like whimsical YA you may enjoy Cloaked. However, it's certainly not the best of either category and suffers a bit in the character development and conclusion.

Random Quote: "I'm in. I won. I don't need the fox or the inn or anything. I'm not going to get shot at. I just have to catch the frog, something any little boy can do. For once in my life, something is easy! (106)"

Similar Reads: Beastly and A Kiss in Time both by Alex Flinn, My Mother She Killed Me My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

Flinn, Alex. Cloaked. New York: HarperTeen, 2011.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quick Review: Troubled Waters

Title: Troubled Waters
Author: Sharon Shinn
Themes: change, power, love, family
Rating: **1/2

Plot: Bestseller Shinn (Quatrain) carries readers away into a vivid new fantasy world where the five elements control everyone's lives. Alone and in shock after the death of her father, Zoe Ardelay is invited to the capital to become the king's fifth wife and create a much needed numerological balance both politically and at court, where the four queens vie to promote their children for the role of heir to the throne. Then Zoe learns she is the new prime of the Lalindar clan, which saves her from the marriage, but thrusts her into a world of dangerous political scheming, secret agendas, and an increasingly risky attraction to royal adviser Darien Serlast. This entertaining and suspenseful story is full of lively characters, and the intriguing new system of magic and politics provides plenty of potential for sequels.

My Thoughts: For some reason I totally had Avatar: The Last Airbender in mind the entire time I was reading this fun little adventure/romance by Sharon Shinn. In Shinn's new world every person has a tie to an element which determines their character to a large extent. The whole elemental connection/magical power thing definitely followed the traditional modes of thought (i.e. "fire" people were hot tempered and ambitious, "stone/earth" people are stubborn and unmovable...etc.) concerning elemental personality attributes. I think this is always a fun way to order a fantasy universe/people, despite the fact that it's been done countless times before. Shinn adds an extra element by providing an elaborate "blessing" system that occurs at birth, where the new parent asks three random people to pull blessing coins from the temple for their newborn child. These coins contain words or phrases such as "beauty," "power," or "industrious" and are believed to truthfully characterize the newborn through their life.

Zoe is a likable, yet very flawed (and rather slow), protagonist with a strong sense of right and wrong - but an ambiguous relationship to power and any means to gaining power. While the romance was a bit predictable and staid, and the elemental philosophy a bit overemphasized and redundant I found this novel to be a fun little jaunt into another of Shinn's fantasy worlds. Zoe faces many obstacles, gains and loses power, and finally comes to a self-awareness she lacked at the beginning of the novel.

With most of Shinn's works I find the plotlines to be a bit...overextended, with events just piling up and no apparent reason for it all. While it makes for a fast and exciting second-half of a book it does come across as strained to me. It just seems like a bit too much. Just one of these issues or events could make a satisfying and exciting read...for instance the Soechin infatuation with youth was disturbing and frighteningly familiar and the entire book could have been written about the possible marriage between the two kingdoms.

Recommendation: A staid read with predictable romance and a familiar elemental personality system...yet the details are fun and the world building is excellent. I would recommend to anyone looking for a light read, especially if they are a fan of Shinn's works.

Similar Reads: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, Chalice by Robin McKinley

Shinn, Sharon. Troubled Waters. New York: Ace Books, 2010.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Top Ten Tuesdays: Trends

10 Trends I'd Love to See More/Less Of

From The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme of top tens! This week was really fun as I love to bs about trends in books. Unfortunately I could only think of six trends I wanted more of, and two that I wanted less of!

I want more:

1. Books covers like this:

Or like this:
I like the stark, simple color scheme and the decorative

2. Creative narrative styles...and I am thinking of an older book here, Jane Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark. Ballads? Anthropology essays? Yes please include them in my young adult fantasy.

3. If paranormal romance in young adult novels must continue to dominate I want to see more variety! Vampires and werewolves (and fairies) have been done to death. I wouldn't mind some mummies, zombies, selkies, hobgoblins, or whathaveyou. Maybe they aren't as "sexy" as a sparkly vampire or buff werewolf, but they would be novel.

5. More fairy tale retellings! Mythology can fit in here too. I know there is a YA retelling of Persephone (Abandon by Meg Cabot) that's calling to me. Am I the only one who isn't sick of this trend?

6. Illustrations in "grown up" books, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Leviathon. I LOVED the illustrations. I fully support this trend.

Less of:

1. Young adult "paranormal romance" in the vein of Twilight....once was enough. While some are quite good, most are merely capitalizing on a newly realized market and...suck.

2. Beheaded bodies on book covers. I don't get it, and find it mildly disturbing.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Foreigners

Title: The Foreigners
Author: Maxine Swann
Themes: travel, escape, divorce, sexuality, manipulation, cruelty, ambition, independence
Rating: **1/2

Plot: Buenos Aires is a city of Parisian affections and national anxiety, of amorous young lovers, seedy ports, flooded slums, and a dazzling social elite. Into this heady maze of contradiction and possibility enter two women: Daisy, an American divorcée; and Isolde, a beautiful, lonely Austrian. In Buenos Aires, Isolde finds that her blond European looks afford her entrée to the kind of elite, alluring social world she never would have had access to in her home country, but her ascension also sets her up for a long, surprising fall. Meanwhile, Daisy joins forces with Leonarda, a chameleonic Argentine with radical dreams of rebellion, who transfixes Daisy with her wild effervescence. Soon, Daisy is throwing off her American earnestness and engaging in a degree of passion, manipulation, and risk-taking in a way she never has before. Buenos Aires has allowed her to become someone else.

Against the throbbing backdrop of this shimmering and decadent city- almost a character in itself-Maxine Swann has created a stunning narrative of reawakened sensuality and compulsive desire that simultaneously explores with remarkable acuity themes of foreignness, displacement, and the trembling metamorphoses that arise from such states. From the award-winning, critically celebrated author of Flower Children, The Foreigners is a startlingly bold and original, unforgettable next novel.

My Thoughts: Like Swann's previous novel, The Foreigners is sultry and exotic for it's strangeness in a familiar context. For some reason I classify them both as "summer" stories. They both seem to resonate oppressive summer heat and humidity, and the lethargy of a hot summer's illogical but I thought I would share.

In The Foreigners a recently divorced American woman (Daisy) is fortunate enough to live freely in Beunos Aires in exchange for a study of waterworks. The novel revolves around a colorful cast of both natives and fellow ex-pats. She walks along touristy and homey streets, she flits through parties and her run down apartment, but the protagonist seems to delve deeper and deeper into some inexplicable madness after befriending Leonarda-who manipulates and torments others.

In an attempt to broaden her horizons and embrace life as she couldn't back home, Daisy instead seems to spiral out of control and instead begins mimicking the cruel and unreasonable acts of Leonarda. Swann tiptoes into the absurd as the novel progresses. By the end of the book The Foreigners feels more like a surrealist dream sequence than a travel story-and one closes the book with a vague sense of repulsion.

While not all of the characters or sub-plots were equally fleshed out or connected, The Foreigners was an absorbing and entertaining book. Overall, this was an interesting study in depravity and the absurd but I much preferred the more realistic and heart-felt characters and plots from Swann's previous novel Flower Children.

Recommendation: If you are a fan of travel narratives, especially located in Latin America, this fictional account of a divorcee's experience in Buenos Aires may be right up your alley. I found this novel lacked any sort of (positive) character growth or conclusions (at least believable ones), so if you prefer those elements you may wish to avoid The Foreigners. I was entertained and challenged by this short novel, and so recommend it with some hesitation.

Similar Reads: Flower Children by Maxine Swann, The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Swann, Maxine. The Foreigners. New York: Riverhead Books, 2011.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weekly Geeks 2011-18

I thought this week, I'd give you two activities. You may do both activities OR you may choose one over the other.

Option 1: Write a post (or leave a comment) with suggestions for future weekly geek topics! Share as many ideas as you'd like! Be as creative as you want. Or if you can't think of any "new" topics of your own, consider listing your top five topics from the past, from our archives.

Option 2: Write a post about your genre prejudices or your genre allergies. (I tend to be allergic to westerns, for example.) Are there genres that you haven't read that you avoid at all costs? Are there genres that you don't take seriously? Would you be willing to try something new? (Or someone new!) Consider asking for recommendations and challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone a bit. Alternatively, you may want to write a post about one of your favorite genres and recommend titles to newbies. Which books would you recommend to those readers who are new to that genre?

Option One: My Top Five Fave Topics from the Past!
1. 2009-45
A christmas wish-list! I know it's simple and straightforward, but I love reading wish gives me ideas.
2. 2009-35
A discussion about your reading "plan." Oooh, very interesting.
3. 2010-6
Romancing the tome. Romantic literature...I especially liked reading about blogger's favorite literary couples and the necessity of sex in literary romances.
4. 2010-10
Literary tattoos. This should be obviously awesome. I'm far too indecisive to have one of my one.
5. 2011-3
Female authors were the focus of this WG, even I (feminist reader) read largely male authors, so it was wonderful to see everyone's thoughts on this topic.

Option Two:
Genre Allergies:
I admit that I am very prejudiced when it comes to three genres in particular: romances, westerns, and mystery novels. I just can't get into it...I don't know why but they just seem so formulaic and episodic...

If anyone can recommend a mystery, western, or romance though...I would be willing to try it out.

Genre Loves and Recommendations:
I LOVE fairy tale retellings. Which I know I've talked about before.

So...I also love YA dystopian novels, and would recommend
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go (although I still despise the protagonist) by Patrick Ness,
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff,
  • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, and
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury,
I'm currently reading Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, which might be included on this list later.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Wolf Tower Sequence

The Series: the Wolf Tower Sequence
: Wolf Tower
Wolf Star

Wolf Queen
Wolf Wing
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: love, family, fate, magic, science, deception, perseverance, adventure, running away, betrayal

The Wolf Tower Plot: Orphan-slave Claidi knows only the mindless rituals and cruelties of the House and the Garden, where the ruling families wallow in lavish extravagance. Then a golden stranger promises freedom if she will journey with him through the savage Waste.
Mad tribes and strange cities, enemies and friends where she least expects them, above all the Wolf Tower that broods over the grim stone city of her destiny; nothing - and no one - is as it seems.
If she is to survive, Claidi must learn fast - hone her wits, sharpen her instinct for danger...
Freedom demands that she confront the Law - once and for all...

The Wolf Star Plot: Orphan-slave Claidi has fought for freedom and won. Now she looks forward to a life of happiness with the wandering Hulta people.
But once again for Claidi, nothing and no-one is as it seems. Secrets menace her; a bewildering land of giant flowers and savage animals; the awesome Rise, a great cliff topped by a mansion ruled by a strange, arrogant, enigmatic Prince. At dusk each night, the rising of the flaming Wolf Star.
Again, Claidi has only her wits and courage as weapons and her diary as her only friend.

The Wolf Queen Plot: Leaving the Rise, Claidi anticipates a joyful reunion with her beloved Argul.
Instead, her return to the Hulta people meets only mistrust, fury and betrayal. Determined to unravel the lies and deceit which haunt her past and threaten her future, she journeys northward. But in the strange cities - and even stranger people - she finds, Claidi sees only more mystery and deeper secrets.

The Wolf Wing Plot: Free at last, Claidi and Argul can begin their new life together. Yet, nagged by her past, Claidi feels compelled to return to her birthplace, the House, to rescue her fellow slaves.
Again, nothing is as it seems. The shadow of the mysterious scientist-magician Ustareth still spreads over them, drawing them relentlessly into a quest beyond their wildest dreams.

My Thoughts on the Whole Series: This is a series aimed at Young Adults, so as such it is a bit exaggerated and simplified with a heavy emphasis on love interests and betrayals (just seems like common traits in YA series to me).

I had a hard time with the love story, as I increasingly do, because it seems like the male character/love interest is so perfect and the protagonist is so very flawed and really not lovable in the slightest...yet the love interest goes above and beyond and adores them and trusts them even when all evidence points to something else...I don't know. Maybe I'm too cynical. But I feel like when it becomes so one-sided like this it seems more like a lonely girl's fantasy than a realistic romance. I think I am being too picky.

As usual, Lee's worldbuilding is fun and I continued reading simply to find out more about Claidi's realm. I enjoyed the fact that the world was large and heterogeneous, there was a variety of peoples, societies, beliefs, and technologies in different far-flung regions-it made this new world more realistic and complex. It also made the significant amount of travel in the story more interesting because Claidi could describe new surroundings and peoples. About 90% of the series is spent in travel, and as it is written in a diary format, it does make for better storytelling.

The constant betrayal inside betrayal topped with another betrayal within layers of secrets and revelations did get a bit old by the second book however. Claidi is a slave who is secretly a princess who isn't actually a princess but a slave being set up as a scapegoat who really was a princess after all if you go back far enough into history....really? And the love interest, technologies, side characters all have similar convoluted stories. Of course the story leading up to the "real truth" of Ustareth" was just as obnoxious-though it was more legitimate since she was actually a mysterious chameleon type character. She reminded me quite a bit of the protagonist in The Birthgrave trilogy actually.

It's almost as if the author wasn't quite sure where it was going until the very last novel. Or that she was just throwing new twists on the page when she lacked inspiration. I love Tanith Lee. I enjoyed this series. But I was tired of it all long before finishing the story.

Recommendation: If it sounds interesting to you at all, pick it up! If you hate the first book you certainly don't have to read the other three. They were light, quick, and easy reads that were enjoyable.

Similar Reads: The Unicorn Series by Tanith Lee, Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen, The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

Lee, Tanith. Wolf Tower. New York: Puffin, 2001.
Lee, Tanith. Wolf Star. New York: Puffin, 2002.
Lee, Tanith. Wolf Queen. New York: Firebird, 2003.
Lee, Tanith. Wolf Wing. New York: Puffin, 2004.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Secret Books of Venus

The Series: The Secret Books of Venus
Titles: Faces Under Water
Saint Fire
A Bed of Earth
Venus Preserved
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: love, loyalty, apocalypse, murder, revenge, feuds, family, music, wealth, religion
Rating: ***1/2

Faces Under Water Plot (***): In this new series, Tanith Lee weaves intricate plots around the elements of water, fire, earth, and air. the first in this new series, Faces Under Water immerses readers in the timeless beauty of Venice and the secret terror that lies beneath.

In the hedonistic atmosphere of an eighteenth-century Venice Carnival, gaiety turns deadly when Furian Furiano happens upon a mask of Apollo floating in the murky waters of the canals. The mask hides a sinister art, and Furian finds himself trapped in a bizarre tangle of love, obsession, and evil, stumbling upon a macabre society of murderers. The beautiful but elusive Eurydiche holds the key to theses murders and leads him further into a labyrinth of black magic and ancient alchemy. For all readers who fell in love with Lee's Paradys series and for all those enchanted and terrified by the fantastical, Faces Under Water will be sure to thrill.

Saint Fire Plot (***): Starting with the premise of four novels based on the phases of alchemy and the four elements, Tanith Lee has created an evocative alternate Italy in her new series, The Secret Books of Venus. The first volume, Faces Under Water, was set against a backdrop drenched with atmosphere and water in a parallel Venice.

In Saint Fire, the gripping second volume in the series, Volpa is a strangely beautiful servant girl who glows with an inhuman inner fire. When her master, an abusive woodseller, is mysteriously incinerated, Volpa begins to discover her power of fire. Her gift is noticed by the church leaders, who see her as a mighty weapon in their holy wars. Not sure if her powers are heavenly or demonic, the priests are nonetheless determined to have Volpa on their side. This gripping fantasy of a mysteriously gifted Joan of Arc figure is stunning from beginning to end.

A Bed of Earth Plot(****):
A Bed of Earth is a haunting journey to a parallel version of sixteenth-century Venice, where a fierce territorial rivalry between two noble families unearths a supernatural force from beneath the placid surface of the canals and rotting understructure of the city.

The struggle between the two families for space on the Isle of the Dead, the overcrowded burial ground for generations of Venetian nobility, culminates in the abduction and horrific murder of a fourteen-year-old-girl. As the years pass on, parties complicit in her fate begin to suffer the consequences in a series of shocking deaths that could emanate from none other than a supernatural force. A humble apprentice gravedigger is left to sort out the mysteries and subdue the ancient terror that threatens to destroy the entire republic.

Venus Preserved Plot(**):
The thrilling conclusion to Tanith Lee's compelling Secret Books of Venus quartet, Venus Preserved is set centuries into the future in the undersea city of Venus, the site of a macabre experiment to bring two lost souls back to life. Salvaged from beneath the sea and rebuilt under a dome, Venus itself has been resurrected with a vast network of advanced computers that regulate weather, noise, and the most previous undersea commodity of all-air.

When the experiment goes awry, claiming several lives, the questions abound: was it merely an accident? Computer failure? Or has an airborne virus been unleashed? Or is there an even more sinister danger afoot, a force from beyond that threatens the survival of Venus itself? To answer these questions, a traveler from the surface is forced to confront mysteries in his own past and to reveal the connection that ties him to the unavenged spirits wreaking havoc n the doomed city.

My Thoughts (on the whole series): What I had enjoyed so much about Lee's Paradys series was it's rather epic and self-referencing nature. It was essential a collection of short stories that took an alternative Paris from pre-modern to futuristic vignettes. Poets or liars or cheats or heroes from earlier stories would be seen again in stories later in the same tome, or later in the series, as a street name, a legend, a small reference. But each book, or short story collection, was easily read on its own. Each could be read out of order. The Secret Books of Venus are still self-referencing and each tome is independent and so can be read out of order or even individually. But I was rather let down by the fact that they were actual novels, not more collections of short stories, because I felt I didn't get a wide enough swath of Venetian history and life as I did for Paradys. Because really, each of these "Secret" series are stories of the city-not of whichever protagonist is currently on the page. Paradys was a mosaic, Venus is more of a linear narrative.

Of course Lee's writing is lush, vivid, raw, and beautiful. Her references to an alternative Christianity both beautify the ecstasy of belief and ritual, while emphasizing the fallibility of mankind (i.e. religion as institution). I found that the scenes and stories revolving around religion to be the most beautiful things written in the series (especially Saint Fire). She also tackles more supernatural/magical elements in a way that is typical of her writing style-that is, in a way so that the reader doesn't realize it's magic or unrealistic, only that it makes a strange sort of sense within the context.

While I did find the conclusion of Venus Preserved to be a bit over-the-top, I thoroughly enjoyed most of this series and have aspects of each book that I truly loved. Faces Under Water was intriguing because of the deadly mask, and Eurydiche's face which was a mask. Saint Fire was bizarre and enjoyable because of the intense fervor shared by Volpa and her knight. A Bed of Earth was tragic and magical, with a plot that transcended time, space, and any sort of logic while maintaining an atmosphere of unlimited possibilities and hope.

Recommendation: If you're curious about Tanith Lee's fiction and are a fan of the slightly sinister and epic tales in general, I would recommend both The Secret Books of Venus as well as The Secret Books of Paradys. My favorite Venetian book was A Bed of Earth, and I see no reason why you couldn't start there if you were so inclined.

Similar Reads: The Secret Books of Paradys by Tanith Lee (Book of the Damned, Book of the Beast, Book of the Dead, Book of the Mad), The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

Lee, Tanith. Faces Under Water. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1998.

Lee, Tanith. Saint Fire. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1999.

Lee, Tanith. A Bed of Earth. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2002.

Lee, Tanith. Venus Preserved. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2003.

Weekly Geeks 2011-15

Finally I am back to doing Weekly Geeks, a weekly meme and discussion starter! This week's theme is: Catch Up on Reviews!

"This week I thought I'd go with one of Dewey's original weekly geek themes.

1) In your blog, list any books you've read but haven't reviewed yet. If you're all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you [hope to] finish this week.
2) Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.
3) Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. I'll probably turn mine into a sort of interview-review. Link to each blogger next to that blogger's question(s).
This is a very timely topic indeed! I have completed quite a few books, and have yet to review them! Although yesterday I completed three reviews...I still have a few more to do!

1. Books I have recently read, and need to review:
  • Once I complete Wolf Wing by Tanith Lee, I need to do a series review of her Claidi series.
  • Once I complete Venus Preserved by Tanith Lee I need to do a series review of the Venus series.
  • I have also recently read two books on running/nutrition, which are listed in my 2011 reading list but I'm not sure if I should attempt to review them or not. Any suggestions?
2. Please ask any questions about any of the books I listed in 1 or any book I've read at all (or maybe a book I should read). I would love to discuss with you!

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, Book One)
Author: Patrick Ness
Themes: family, friendship, loyalty, murder, privacy, trust, escape, hope
Rating: ***1/2

Plot: Prentisstown isn't like other towns.

Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, ever-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee-whose thoughts Todd can hear, too, whether he wants to or not-stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden-a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

My Thoughts: I may be the last person to this particular party, but I was fairly impressed with The Knife of Never Letting Go. My thoughts are still a little scattered, but I intend to keep this review short since this book has received so many reviews already!

I think I should share that at one point (let's just say the chapter entitled "The Wicked Are Punished") I literally burst into tears and threw the book down with the intention of never picking it back up (except to return it to the library) because I utterly despised the main character. A week passed and I caved, not because I was curious about the story or Todd, but because I have a strange compulsion to finish every book I start-no matter how much I don't want to. The first page I cried again remembering what had happened when I threw the book down. I have only cried with two other books-Where the Red Fern Grows and Gone With the Wind (when the only decent person in the book dies).

The story is excellent, the first person badly-spelled narrative is effective and enjoyable, and the environment Ness created is captivating and intriguing with equal parts horror and despair.

But that damned dog, Manchee, he was the only character I liked.

There are some truly scary things going on in The Knife of Never Letting Go. Overall I liked the book-I liked the world and the exploration of ways to deal with the Noise. But I hated the story. I found that the Todd storyline was becoming rather outrageous, yes I understand he's a symbol to his little town...but obviously he wasn't necessary in the large scheme of things and I failed to see how he remained so vitally important in the eyes of Prentisstown leadership. I also failed to see any sort of sense in the storyline of Prentisstown even as the book concluded (on a great cliffhanger, just so you know)...I just felt like I couldn't make sense of it and that events and people existed not because they had a story to tell but because something needed to propel Todd along.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to any sci-fi or young adult fans, however I won't be re-reading this or reading the sequels. I just can't find it in my heart to like Todd after that particular chapter, and I don't really care what happens to him-although I love the world-building Ness has done, I simply can't connect to his protagonist any more.

Random Quote: "The hoofbeats get louder, echoing down the canyon.

But if there suddenly ain't no bridge-

I saw some more.

And some more.

And some more.

And I'm just not making no progress at all." (p. 121)

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Barryville, VA: Candlewick Press, 2008.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sea Change

Title: Sea Change
Author: Aimee Friedman
Themes: friendship, mermaids, forgiveness, betrayal, love, class, wealth
Rating: **

Plot: When Miranda Merchant, sixteen and levelheaded, escapes her lonely, hot summer in New York City, little does she know what awaits her. She steps off the ferry onto an island rife with legend, lore, and a past her logical mind can't make sense of. She isn't expecting to feel a connection to this unusual place, so filled with languorous charm and strange history.

And when she meets Leo, a mysterious local boy, she finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew about boys, friendship, reality...and love.

Is Leo hiding something? Or is he something she never could have imagined?

My Thoughts: I admit to being slightly disappointed by Sea Change. I have been looking for an enjoyable mermaid/selkie young adult book since reading Melissa Marr's short story "Love Struck" which can be found in this book. Sea Change takes place on Selkie Island and is perhaps about merpeople, so I gave it a shot! I just found it to be a bit lacking in both the romance development as well as the mythic/folkloric aspects of the storyline.

First, my qualms with the back cover/bookflap summary. Selkie Island isn't what I would call "rife with legend, lore, and a past her logical mind can't make sense of." In fact the only real legend, lore, and mysterious past in this book emanate from a book of legends our protagonist finds and mostly ignores, and an older man on the ferry who warns her of a kraken. I think that Friedman could have really expanded on this particular theme, since later suspicions that Leo isn't wholly human seems to be more extreme paranoia and silliness than based on any sort of prevailing lore within the context of the story.

The protagonist herself, Miranda, is fairly cliched as well, which I personally find unbearable. She is a "science" that disallows her to be anything but super-ambitious, super-ingenious, anti-social, awkward, and sloppily dressed apparently. She just can't get "English or history" or anything not related to science...she has "science withdrawals" as well. She also suffers from low-self-esteem, until she suddenly discovers she is beautiful because boys find her just seemed like such a silly and unrealistic transformation from wallflower to "oh gosh I'm sexy!" I'm sure such people exist, but it just seems like such a collection of stereotypes in this case. I found Miranda to be completely flat and unlikeable because of it.

My final comments deal with the romance aspect of the novel, which admittedly is about 90% of the story. Through the novel the reader discovers Miranda's ex-boyfriend and the reason for her disavowal of "love" and "happy endings," during which time we are introduced to two boys on Selkie Island. One, T.J., is a "summer" inhabitant of the island-who is rich, gentlemanly, and boring. The other is Leo, a local on the island who lives in Fisherman's Village and splits his time between his father's fishing business and his internship at the island marine center. Naturally, he is also a bit of a "bad boy." I didn't find his "bad boy"-ness to be particularly obnoxious or forced (as in some YA romances that I've read), and actually found his character quite endearing even if I'm not quite sure of his intentions or motivations even after I've completed the book. However, I did find all of Miranda's potential relationships to be rather flat; she was there a week and a half...and it just seemed to rushed and hollow. I couldn't really understand the romance since it seemed far too quick and with far to much "baggage/drama" to be really believable.

I won't repeat myself by discussing the mother/daughter relationship and the books ending. They were sort of...surprising because they didn't make sense, and terribly flat as well.

Recommendation: This wasn't an unenjoyable book, and any fans of supernatural (or not?) romances and YA fiction might enjoy this more than me. Otherwise I probably wouldn't recommend this particular novel. I just couldn't connect at all to the flat protagonist and felt rather grossed out at the break-neck speed of the potential romances that occurred in Sea Change.

Random Quote: "Mom stepped up to me and put her hands on my arms, but I jerked away. 'You're going to catch a cold,' she said. 'You should take a hot shower. We'll talk about this another time. Doctor's orders,' she added with a small smile.
'I don't want to talk about it,' I snapped. It was my last lie of the night. And with that, I brushed pasted Mom and started for the stairs, leaving small puddles in my wake." (p. 161)

Friedman, Aimee. Sea Change. New York: Point, 2009.


Title: Carrots'N'Cake: Healthy Living One Carrot and Cupcake at a Time
Author: Tina Haupert
Themes: healthy living, diet, weight loss, exercise, personal experiences, nutrition, physical fitness, lifestyle
Rating: ***

Plot: From one of the most popular blogs comes an innovative, even fun way to diet. Carrots'N'Cake is all about eating your carrots...and savoring your cupcake, too. Tina Haupert shows how to drop the pounds and keep them off by adopting eating habits that are healthy, balanced, and above all, livable. She serves up easy-to-follow fitness routines, food tips, and her most popular feature: cookie Friday.

My Thoughts: I don't know if I would have picked this book up if not for Early Reviewers over at LibraryThing. I just usually don't "do" lifestyle books...but I am pretty happy that I got a chance to read and review this little tome. Haupert uses personal anecdotes as the binding theme to this fitness and nutrition manifesto. Her experiences as an adult woman who was suddenly inactive (for the first time since age three), working a desk job, and eating without a care to nutrition or weight lead naturally into her dedication to completely altering and improving her eating and exercising habits. I enjoyed her personal experiences and felt they tied together all of the tips Haupert offers-and appreciated the range of stories that included eating junk food at an office job to obsessing over a pug to the point of order to have one. However, I just felt that I personally found it hard to connect to Haupert since my "health or fitness background" is the opposite...I've never been active and have always had to watch what I eat and am only now trying to improve both my exercise and eating habits.

Haupert's overlaying theme is moderation and a focus on healthy foods and prioritizing fitness. She argues that your visits to the gym should be what you center other activities around, not what is haphazardly fit into your schedule. She argues that your health should come first, not that it is easy, but that exercise and nutritious eating is essential and improves the quality of our lives. Haupert gives tips for "realistic dieting" that includes a discussion on moderation in how you eat, yes eat healthy food-but its good to have controlled splurges (like her cookie Friday) to keep up your motivation for eating healthy! I really like this concept and agree with it. With eating it is impossible (for me at least) to go all or nothing, I can't completely cut out chocolate and french fries! But it's doable to cut down on it, which still makes an improvement in your health.

Littered throughout the thematic chapters are recipes, from potato salad to oatmeal to carrot cake, Haupert offers recipes for healthy foods that are all fairly easy to look up. In this regard I am not fully prepared to review Carrots'N'Cake as I have only tried two of the recipes so far-Banana Oatmeal Chip Cookies, and Baked Banana Oatmeal (I love oatmeal and banana, obviously). But both of these were healthy, tasty, and easy to whip up so I am looking forward to trying a few more of the recipes included in the book.

With all of that said, I was also expecting a bit more from this book. It is largely stories of Haupert's life...with rather vague and sometimes obvious tips for better health (not that they aren't appreciated and motivational). When I cracked open this book I had expected a little more exercise and meal-planning based content. In this end, this is largely a series of vignettes from Haupert's life with a few recipes, tips, and exercise plans thrown in-in other words, a bit of fluff. That didn't stop my enjoyment of it, but I wouldn't go to this book looking for specific guidelines in changing your eating or exercising habits-it's more motivational than anything else.

Recommendation: I enjoyed reading Haupert's stories, trying her recipes, and motivating myself to make improvements in my exercise and eating habits. I would recommend this to anyone struggling with weight issues as a realistic and healthy way to "diet"-though I don't really consider Carrots'N'Cake a diet is more of a fitness manifesto and memior.

Similar Reads: Runner's World Runner's Diet by Madelyn H. Fernstrom and Ted Spiker

Haupert, Tina. Carrots'N'Cake: Healthy Living One Carrot and Cupcake at a Time. New York: Sterling Epicure, 2011.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Tiger in the Kitchen

Title: A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family
Author: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Themes: food, cooking, family, heritage, culture
Rating: *** 1/2

Plot: Born in the year of the Tiger (a rebellious sign), Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan left Singapore at age 18 to attend Northwestern University. More than a decade later, as a 30-something living in New York City, she was suddenly gripped with a sense of loss at the knowledge that she was, indeed, "Ang Moh" (a Chinese term that implies "Westernized"). Tan did not know how to make the food of her people, and as any Singaporean will tell you, they don't eat to live-they live to eat. In the tiny Southeast Asian country that straddles the equator, food is both a national obsession and their way of bonding. As a way to pass the time while in the kitchen, they tell stories.

Now, Cheryl Tan invites readers to join her on a quest to recreate the dishes of her native Singapore as a way to connect food and family with her sense of home. As Tan begins cooking with her family, she learns not just about food, bit about her family history and her heritage. She finds that home is rooted in the kitchen and the foods of her Singaporean girlhood. A Tiger in the Kitchen is a charming story about being a Chinese-American and a food exile, and finding a place for one's heritage in a modern life.

My Thoughts: I was extremely excited to read this book for a few reasons, namely (1) it was a free Early Reviewer copy (I just love those uncorrected proofs), (2) it featured Singaporean food which I have never read about, and (3) I felt connected to the author because I also put off learning to cook until adulthood because I felt like I needed to be doing something less "housewifey" (which is just silly I know).

But I was also hesitant to dive right in because I feared (what I see as) an overemphasis on Singaporean/Non-Western culture versus the "vacuum" of American culture. I hate reading stories where becoming "Westernized" means losing culture, that only non-American/Western peoples have culture and that we (I am Western/American) are somehow lacking our own culture-happy just to suck it out of everyone else. I just feel like this approach cheapens everyone's sense of culture, and is a negative world-view in general. I am happy to report that Cheryl Lu-lien Tan handles her discussion of culture with nuance and grace-and I enjoyed every page of A Tiger in the Kitchen.

With that said, I feel I need to justify loving this book (I am a graduate student, I need to justify every claim after all). First of all, the writing is lovely. When Tan writes it feels both personal and professional-you feel like she is talking directly to you, but in a well planned and polished manner. The book flowed surprisingly well, with transitions and events leading into each other in entertaining ways. One would assume a book about learning to cook your family's food would be fairly tedious, but Tan brings together multiple food experiences from New York, Hawaii, China, and Singapore into a cohesive narrative that describes her reconnection to her family and country of origin. Yes it is a food memoir. But really the food is merely a tool to reconnect to family and address a difficult time in Tan's life, with every dish she loving describes and every cooking lesson she shares Tan is sharing her family's love and dedication-as well as its scandals and skeletons. If anything, it seems all the more intimate for its connection to food.

Keep in mind that this book will make you hungry. I have only read two other "food memoirs" but neither of them made me want to cook or eat as much as a single chapter of Tan's did. She describes dishes with such loving detail, I can just smell the pandan leaves and ginger and duck...and I appreciate the recipes at the back of the book just for this reason.

Recommendation: I highly recommend A Tiger in the Kitchen to anyone interested in Asia, food, or memoirs because of Tan's impressive writing, her thoughtful and amusing reflections on food and family, and the bittersweet connection she makes between family long gone through cooking.

Similar Reads: Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, Fannie's Last Supper by Chris Kimball

Tan, Cheryl Lu-Lien. A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family. New York: Hyperion, 2011.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sort of a Slump

I've been having trouble finding time to read. I had two mid-terms yesterday and two bugs so far this month. Grr.

The only things I've read recently are textbooks and short stories (most recently was Tanith Lee's story collection for children, Princess Hynchatti and Some Other Surprises) which I find difficult to review. Although I might try anways for the Lee book because it was such a whimsical little collection.

In other news I received an Early Reviewer book yesterday, and am looking forward to starting it tonight.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Title: Volkhavaar
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: sorcery, love, the power of belief, souls, astral projection, slavery, religion, pride
Rating: ***

Plot: The author of the unforgettable Birthgrave, of the panoramic outworld of The Storm Lord, and of the future folk of Don't Bite the Sun, now presents us with something different-and yet equally enthralling in its color and fantasy and high adventure.

For Volkhavaar is a novel of witchcraft and wonders on a world far removed from those we know. Here the gods contend for power-and the Dark forces against the Light-and here an entire city and its land is plunged into the shadow of an evil beyond anything conceivable.

It is the story of Shaina the slave girl and of Volk the outcast who enslaved himself to cosmic forces to gain total power-and of how they were finally to meet and clash-with an entire world as their prize.

Volkhavaar is high fantasy comparable only to the best of Andre Norton and Michael Moorcock.

My Thoughts: Reading has been difficult for me this month, with school starting up and all. It seems I rely very heavily on fantasy and Tanith Lee novels when I'm stressed about school! This particular novel I actually ordered through Link+ at my university library, since I was having a hard time finding an affordable used copy. It contains all of the elements I so love about Tanith Lee novels, but with unique characters and plot so that I'm still interested it as an individual piece of work.

Volkhavaar is told in a very mythic tone, giving its story an air of folklore or ancient myth as told by a wizened grandparent. Archetypes are also heavily relied on in this novel, as is apparent from the plot description given on the back of the book. The story truly is a dichotomy between Light and Dark, Shaina/Love and Kernik Volk Volkhavaar/Hate. While this can sometimes feel quite flat, overall Volkhavaar maintains its integrity as a story, and seems to still have something to "say" despite the cliched basic premise.

The power of belief is essential to this tale, and the reader is left wondering throughout if something really occurs (magic or the gods' power for example) or if it is only believed to occur. This issue is even explicitly addressed in one instance, when a sword is reduced to its basic elements in order to erase its belief in a killing-which is undone as soon as the sword stops believing it occurred.

Like in most Lee stories, I found that the villain received the most attention, and that they were the true "movers and shakers" of the story. In this case, Kernik's life story and ambitions take up well over half of the pages and is much more of a "presence" then Shaina, who seems to be merely another beautiful, proud, vision of a hero. The conclusion only reinforces these impressions.

With that in mind, I did feel the conclusion was a bit anticlimactic. While the emphasis on belief creating reality throughout the novel did prepare you for the ending, it did seem as though it would have benefited from a more difficult or flashy resolution...since the clash between Shaina and Kernik was being slowly intensified starting page one I thought that there would be more struggle/fireworks in the concluding chapter. But apparently not.

Recommendation: Any lover of fantasy novels or stories about Love and Light struggling against Dark and Hate should enjoy this short novel (192 pages). The writing is atmospheric and artistic, and the themes tackled throughout the book are timeless.

Random Excerpt: "Takerna was the King, and Kernik was his prophet.

In the village street, passing him, they bowed to Kernik, as they had nodded to the priest. He was dreaded and blessed. They brought him presents, food, new garments. He led them up the mountain. It lasted all of a year." (p. 58)

Similar Reads: The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner

Lee, Tanith. Volkhavaar. New York: DAW, 1977.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Waiting on Wednesdays: Deathless

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Release Date: March 29, 2011

What Amazon has to say: Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Love Stories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, each week there is a specific theme for the list. This week is our favorite love stories found in books, here is my list (in no particular order):

1. Creidhe and Keeper in Foxmask by Juliet Marillier. I am a sucker for Marillier romances, it doesn't matter that they are all somewhat similar-I love them every time. I think I might like Paula and Stoyan from Cybele's Secret even that I am thinking about it.

2. Jane and Silver in The Silver Metal Lover, which I kind of discussed briefly here. According to it is a tale of transforming love, a tearjerker, about a robot who seems to fall in love with a human girl who loves him passionately-but is it really just his programming? Naturally, it ends tragically.

3. Lucy Snowe and M. Paul Emanuel from Charlotte Bronte's Villette. Although I hesitate to add onto this list what I think of as a semi-unhealthy relationship with vastly unequal status being accorded to the female half, it is certainly a passionate and "natural" romance that builds slowly, and unexpectedly under Lucy's feet throughout the whole novel.

4. Fiona and Reed in The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn. I think I really like the dynamic of "growing up together," even though it does come a smidgen close to incest in most contexts. I liked the romance and the twist in this novel however, and only felt slightly awkward when brother and sister became something more romantically involved. That's a good storyteller I suppose.

5. Mirasol and The Master from Chalice by Robin McKinley. This is a Young Adult book, I found it to be overly simple, and most pages were expanding on world building and inner dialogue-not any sort of plot development. However, the imagery surrounding the two love birds was wonderful. The Master is, not only the Master of the feudal territory, but also death and flame incarnate-he sears people to the bone with the softest touch. Mirasol is a barefooted (hippie-type) bee keeper who is suddenly called upon to act out a ritualized part as Chalice. I was tempted to include Beauty and the Beast from Beauty, also by Robin McKinley, but felt that this version of the Beauty and the Beast tale was more stylized and fun.

6. Unnamed protagonist and Hatta in Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee.
I admit it's been several years since I've read this particular novel. However, I do recall Hatta being quite a sweet and romantic being, far more into emotional connection than sexual attraction (as evidenced by his tendency to adopt monstrous bodies). The protagonist continually rejects him as anything but a friend, but when she is exiled he follows her in a new body which she does not recognize, and finally wins her over. He probably deserved better, but he was such a sweet character.

7. Jena and Gogu in Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
I only meant for one Marillier book to be included here, as the romances do tend to blend together in her novels, but really...I'm weak willed and want to include a second one. This romance is derived from "The Princess and the Frog" and occurs within a whirlwind of activity, including fairies, vampires, forbidden love, crumbling households, and hostile takeovers of the family home by a relative.

8. Charlotte and Randall in A Curse As Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
This retelling of Rumpelstiltskin has a host of problems as far as plot development and historical accuracy (well, at least I had issues with) but the romance between Charlotte and Randall was quite sweet. Charlotte is a rather cliched strong willed woman trying to make it in a man's world and take care of her community, and Randall is a city banker who goes above and beyond to help her and win her heart.

9. Lizzy and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I really have nothing to add.

10. Shahrazad and the King in The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey
While the basic premise of this romance is rather sickening (it is a retelling of a Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, which is based around a murderous king and a selfless women who tries to stay his killing of girls by stringing him along with wonderful stories) it comes off as rather sweet and enlightening in this young adult novel.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Waiting on Wednesdays: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages: A Comedy of Transdimensional Tomfoolery
Release Date: February 21, 2011

What Amazon has to say: Holt's latest comic fantasy gently twists the reader's mind like a wet dishrag. Polly Mayer thinks she's going crazy: her coffee keeps disappearing, someone else is doing her work, and a dry cleaner vanishes without a trace. Her brother, Don, assumes a rational explanation until he finds an object capable of working magic. Polly's boss, Mr. Huos, knows quite a bit about some ongoing transdimensional skullduggery, but he has no idea who he is or where he came from. Holt (Blonde Bombshell) throws in a highly intelligent pig, a brass ring that isn't, and a "chicken or the egg" riddle with universal ramifications, leaving readers clinging by their fingernails to this rapid-fire tale of a space-time continuum going manic.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Title: Misfortune
Author: Wesley Stace
Themes: cross-dressing, family, inheritance, Classical Mythology, Victoriana, friendship, love, identity, growing up, self-acceptance
Rating: ***

Plot: Misfortune begins with irresistible details of a bygone era as it unfolds the tale of Rose, an infant boy adopted and raised as a girl, who must abandon the luxury and safety of his beloved home and travel halfway around the world to discover who he really is-and to unlock the secret of his rightful place.

My Thoughts: Once again, I take offense at the very very misleading plot description...but I will try to leave that aside this time.

I found this book to be utterly delightful, at least the first half of it. It was a joy to read; I felt enveloped by the atmosphere of Love Hall, and as confused as Rose her/himself about her/his sexual identity and place in the world. The story of her stunning birth, delivery into the hands of Lord Loveall, and his rearrangement of the world itself around Rose was a touching and joyful story. Even with the darker undertones of his refusal to acknowledge that his adopted child was in fact male, Rose tells the reader about her childhood in a sort of painful and joyous detail. The unraveling of the secret of her gender is excruciating for both Rose and the reader, who can do nothing but sympathize with her confusion. As she is the heir to a vast fortune, her greedy relatives descend upon her, and contest her rights to inherit.

Unfortunately, from there it seemed to become rather muddled and preachy...not to mention any sort of historical realism (or at least suspension of disbelief) disappeared for me at around the three hundred page mark. I also found that a lot of the "sex" scenes were rather unnecessary...and modern and gaudy and just inserted for shock value (oh no! Victorian-ish characters are doing naughty things-like giving their uncles hand jobs and flashing themselves around to turn down marriage proposals!).

What would seem to be the biggest adventure of the book, Rose's running away and traveling the world and debasing herself, are left out except for brief references later in the novel to the fact that she never enjoyed sex herself. This in itself was disappointing, her childhood is given to us in detail, then a huge blank spot where she runs away, sees the world, and comes to the brink of suicide...this seems as though it should be included to me at least.

After this "blank" period Rose founds herself in Turkey, near a pool which is identified with hermaphrodites...and from there is rescued by a childhood friend and returned safely to London. In London she searches for her true family, as her family's "man" continues searching for legal loopholes in order to regain Love Hall.

I don't want to spoil too much, because this really is a book that must be read to be fully understood and appreciated, but I think most people would find the conclusion of Rose's story to be rather TOO easy and TOO coincidental. I suppose in this respect it is very much like a Victorian English novel, where everything falls into place-no matter how nonsensical-and the story concludes with a happy ending for some-and a punishment for the bad characters. Of course...I find I must vent about just one aspect, which is a rather critical point in the book, so don't read the next little paragraph if you don't want spoilers!

****** it turns out, Rose had been picked up by a lord from a garbage heap. BUT she was actually a long lost descendant of the TRUE heir to Love Hall. In fact, no other Loveall family member is a true descendant of the legal heir. A stretch, isn't it? Oh, and also that long lost true Love Hall heir is also the mysterious poet Rose's adoptive mother has dedicated her life to...doesn't it all fall into place now?

Naturally, Rose (in skirts and a mustache-as she is to dress ever more) and a whole troupe of rag tag followers appears at Love Hall and put on a performance. I found this to be way over the top and...cheesey...almost had a 1980s/90s teen movie revenge vibe to it.

Am I being too harsh?
Needless to say, in the end Rose finds a happy way to negotiate her sexual identity, her family and friends accept her in skirts with a mustache and wife, and she has a final revenge on her greedy family.

Recommendation: I have mixed feelings about Misfortune. It was fun to read (the first half of the book), it was an adventure, it was unusual. The writing was pretty good, and imagery was wonderful. But...I felt it just spiraled into tackiness and I lost my ability to believe ANY of it. Nevertheless it was fun to discuss, so you may wish to read it just for that!

Random Excerpt: "As she held me in her arms, her mind was suddenly brimming with thoughts of Day and "The Houses of Dead," which told how God, having no sex, provided the mind with no sex at birth. And what was I but her tabula rasa?

That was why, as she drew me closer to her bosom, she smiled (p. 99)."

Similar Reads: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Lieutenant Nun by Catalina de Erauso

Stace, Wesley. Misfortune, a Novel. New York: Back Bay Books, 2005.